Cynthia Ma plans to use her passion for storytelling to improve health policy outcomes and make healthcare literature accessible to all.
Headshot of Cynthia Ma
Cynthia Ma

“In high school, I liked science and figuring out how things worked," said Cynthia Ma, MPP Class of 2025. "The human body was always a mystery to me, and that piqued my interest in studying medicine because it's hard to see people around you suffer."

Originally hailing from Cary, North Carolina, Ma came into the College at the University of Chicago as a double major in creative writing and biology. However, Ma decided to apply to complete her master's at Harris through the University's 4+1 program—which allows participants to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree within five years. 

"I had intended to do science communication, inspired in part by the fact that my first year was during the start of the pandemic. There were a lot of myths and false information in the media, and I thought it important that people could get the right information—and trust the sources."

However, a research assistantship after her second year set her on a course to explore the connection between what science can achieve and the impact of policy. 

“In summer 2022, I worked with a professor in the political science department who was writing a book on early COVID policies in China that focused on how the Chinese government was disseminating information about the virus. This was a turning point for me because I felt much of the information distribution related to the science about COVID could have been faster if not impeded by certain policies.”

The following summer, Ma worked for the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)  in Washington, D.C. "My work at PIRG focused on surprise billing for hospitals and ambulances. We spoke with many patients who would say, ‘I have this severe condition that a doctor diagnosed me with, but I didn't know that it was going to cost me $10,000 to get this procedure or even more to get transferred to a different hospital.’ From this, I realized how important it is to have systems in place to protect patients.”

Ma also said that it's important for people to be aware that there are policies in place to protect them if something happens. "A lot of the literature that exists right now, for both science and policy, is very dense and hard to access. I want to help produce something that is more accessible, which is where the creative writing part of my training comes in,” she said. 

Reflecting on why she wanted to continue her education at UChicago Harris, Ma said it was the school's culture. “What really struck me while taking classes at Harris was how collaborative they were: we were working in groups, and it felt like a good space  to connect with others who had similar interests.”

After graduation, Ma plans to continue working in health policy. “I want to continue raising awareness and connecting with people who are struggling due to poorly constructed policies. I want to work to change those policies to better help those in need. “